What I learned in the Navy

bobby hall


The Dungaree Navy and how I got there.

If it’s 1966, don’t be on academic probation.

On the first day of bootcamp, hang out with the smartest looking guys in the room. If chief Whitten says, “Always wear boxers not tidy whities because they will make you sterile,” he’s right. If you have Southerns in your company and they say, “We’re gonna go get some cock tonight, don’t laugh.” They like to fight and they live in the bizzaro universe where everything is the opposite. You might not learn much as a boot but you will remember “The Washington Post March” ’til the day you die. You learn to clean, white glove inspections are not just a movie thing. “Field Day’ is held every thursday throughout the Navy and Marine Corps where everything is thoroughly cleaned from the overhead to the deck, including the heads, then inspected friday morning. Yes they use mirrors to look under the heads rim. The Navy feeds; real milk, real butter and fresh donuts. Beer in the enlisted clubs is cheap. Dress blue trousers have 13 buttons, each one giving her a chance to say “No.” Liberty cuffs; your jumper sleeves have cuffs, to embroider the inside of the cuff with dragons or other flummery is forbidden, but of course, everyone has them. Your first dress blues are tailored with a 28 inch waist and in two months you will outgrow them. Everybody wears the same uniform; exactly. The only item of dress that’s individual is the Dixie, your little white hat. There are a thousand ways to roll it, crimp it, box or whatever you like. When you make 3rd class your rank is called a ” Crow” and it must be ” pinned ” on by which I mean sailors will punch you in the arm until it’s black and blue and you have to stand a round of drinks at the enlisted club, which will, of course, be full on that particular night. Word gets around, ” scuttlebutt, ” its called and it’s seldom wrong or maybe, right. You must learn how to carefully wake a sleeping sailor for their watch by softly pinching the nose so you don’t wake them suddenly and get your ass kicked. You can train yourself to wake up at the first electrical crackle of the fluorescent light over your rack and get your head under the pillow so you are not blinded. Sailors don’t have to salute officers indoors because in the Navy no one wears covers (hats) inside.  Army and Air force officer pukes do wear covers inside and Navymen don’t salute them. They hated that, swabbies loved it. Some days it was the best thing that happened to you. When they gather your company together and give you the come-on for the Undersea Service, don’t be a sucker. Subs are not called Sewer Pipes for nothing. When the priest gives the “Sex lecture,” the entire auditorium will howl with laughter when he lists all the euphemisms for your penis. If you school with Waves, the pretty ones will all work for an Admiral. All the engine room ratings, boiler tenders, firemen, etc. will die first, don’t volunteer for that either. The two inch thick steel deck of an aircraft carrier melts like Velveeta if there is an explosion, thats why carriers have a locker below decks with snow shovels. Try not to imagine the rest. If your “abandon ship” station is a hundred and ten feet above the sea you are screwed. Black guys called us “Chucks,” we called them “Bloods” and it was all good. The absolute worst time to be on night duty in the Balboa Naval Hospital emergency room is when Cruiser/Destroyer Squadron 23 is just in from six months duty in the Gulf of Tonkin. The “Tonks” in National City, CA, belong to the Navy not the Jarheads, they have Oceanside. You both have TJ. Hard work pays off. Be the honor man in your class or; perhaps not. One of my friends was Honorman in “A” school and he had his jaw shot off in Vietnam. Never look an officer in the eye. All the answers are in the books, Navy Regs cover everything. Feel sorry for the kids in the “crotch,” they are way worse off than you. Do what you are told, you won’t be sorry. All in all, the Navy is egalitarian, you’re all in it together. You will know your shipmates better than you know your own family, and it will last as long as you live. You will learn how big and wonderful the world can be and how a guy from Lubbock Texas or Hillsville Virginia is just like you. Always remember you volunteered for this.

At the end you get a DD-214, and thats all good too.

John M. Shannon HM-2 USN   Jan 1966-April 1970


Apologies to my cousin Bobby Hall whose picture I used, he was a sailor too.



One thought on “What I learned in the Navy

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s